Legislation may lead to area food bank

Published 12:00 am Friday, March 31, 2006

NATCHEZ &8212; The dream of creating a centrally located community food bank may be nearing reality with passage by the state Legislature of a bill that transfers the former AB Motor Co. building to the City of Natchez.

Under Senate Bill 2803, the property will be donated to the city, which then will lease it for a small amount to United Way of the Greater Miss-Lou.

&8220;This will be an unbelievable asset to our community,&8221; said Kathy Stephens, executive director of United Way. &8220;It&8217;s all falling into place, thanks to Bob Dearing, (Natchez) Mayor Phillip West and Butch Brown (executive director of the Mississippi Department of Transportation).&8221;

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United Way will establish the food bank, which then will be turned over to the Natchez Ministerial Alliance to operate longterm.

West said the property will go a long way toward solving a problem that has not been addressed in the area.

&8220;The light of Katrina exposed our need, and this will go a long way toward filling that void,&8221; West said.

Sen. Bob M. Dearing, D-Natchez, said Thursday the bill is being prepared for Gov. Haley Barbour&8217;s signature and could be a few days away from becoming law.

&8220;This all started with John Larson asking me to look into it,&8221; Dearing said.

Larson, pastor at First Presbyterian Church, is president of the Ministerial Alliance.

Larson said the building is exactly the right place to establish the food bank. &8220;This has the potential for great ministry in our community,&8221; he said.

&8220;It&8217;s a positive fallout from Katrina, which offered an opportunity for a cross-culture and cross-racial ministry that came together and had as its goal to help everybody.&8221;

In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the Alliance, many individual churches and United Way worked together to meet the needs of thousands of hurricane evacuees.

United Way at that time was allowed use of the AB Motor property to set up a distribution center for evacuees.

The property had been purchased as part of the right-of-way for highway work still under way at the intersection of Seargent S. Prentiss Drive and Liberty Road.

&8220;We carved out what we needed, and the remnant is what is involved in this,&8221; said Brown, describing the property in the bill.

Brown said specific legislation is essential to make a transaction such as this one possible. &8220;It is rarely done,&8221; he said.

The interchange under construction is in conjunction with the entrance of the Natchez Trace Parkway into Liberty Road. &8220;That is going to be a magnificent entrance into Natchez,&8221; Brown said. &8220;I hope someone will make an attractive drawing for renovating the building so it will blend well with the intersection.&8221;

Stephens said United Way of Central Illinois is ready to bring a truck filled with building materials to renovate the building.

&8220;And Pastor Steve Pearson and Bo Swilley of Community Chapel have 100 men lined up to come to Natchez in June to do the work,&8221; Stephens said.

West said the big impact of the food bank will be in the long term. &8220;I&8217;m so happy the ministers are the ones who want to do this,&8221; he said.

&8220;And I&8217;m proud of Kathy and what she has done and thankful to Bob Dearing for his work, along with (MDOT) Commissioner Wayne Brown and Director Butch Brown.&8221;